Rugby Union: Walter rallies the Saints

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Northampton 32

Edinburgh Reivers 8

VICTORY MEANT much to both sides, but when the final whistle sounded it had meant more to Northampton than to Edinburgh Reivers. The Scots had arrived at Franklin's Gardens as leaders of Pool Six; they left in second place having conceded top spot to the Saints.

They were overpowered, outplayed and lacked forwards of the quality of Northampton hooker Steve Walter, who was dynamic in the loose, bobbing up all over the place when he was not required for heavy-duty stuff at the scrums. His pace and power gained yards for Saints, while his handling skill was exemplary. And when he was replaced late on by Federico Mendez, Reivers were treated to more of the same.

Walter was part of a very efficient Northampton front five. It was appropriate that the first try should have gone to a member of the front-row union when prop Garry Pagel splashed through what could only be described as the shallow end for a simple try after excellent yardage made initially by centre Allan Bateman.

By then Saints had taken a grip of affairs and were paragons of diligence, whereas Reivers had been guilty of carelessness from the earliest moments, conceding ground and, more crucially, penalties.

The first one presented England fly-half Paul Grayson with the goal he needed to take over as Saints record points-scorer, surpassing the 28- year-old mark set by former England full-back Roger Hosen of 1,466 points. Grayson followed that up with a second before he had to limp off with a left-knee injury. His departure saw his international half-back colleague Matt Dawson move out to fly-half, while James Bramhall took over the No 9 shirt.

Two minutes later, Dawson completed his takeover of Grayson's role by landing Northampton's third penalty. But Reivers had their moments and it was a wonder that their full-back, Derrick Lee, did not score when Chris Paterson sent out a stunning pass in the 18th minute. It was low and fast for Lee to run on to and split the Saints' defence, although not quite wide enough apart to earn any points.

The Scots, though, did not build on that and pretty soon found their own line under pressure as the Northampton forwards thundered upfield like rampaging bullocks. Three times they pressed to within inches of the line, three times they were denied by superhuman efforts by the Reivers.

But indiscipline was creeping in to the Reivers' game. When Nathan Hines, the Edinburgh lock, tangled with Saints' captain, Pat Lam, the upshot was a yellow card for the Scot and a penalty which Dawson turned into three more points.

Two minutes later Hines infringed at a ruck and conceded another penalty, which Dawson also converted. Hines received just a warning from referee Joel Dume, but by now rattled Reivers were wilting under a withering series of attacks. Had it not been for a stupendous tackle to bring down Nick Beal as the Saints' full-back scorched down the left late in the first half, then it would have been a blacker picture when they trooped off at the interval.

After Pagel's try in the 47th minute they were swinging in the wind. Northampton were perhaps a bit too casual when looking to penetrate the opposition line. Bateman managed it several times, tellingly so in the 57th minute when his acceleration opened them and left Jon Sleightholme with a gap and he took advantage.

Between that and Mendez's try in his first match of the season came Reivers' try, which, when it did arrive, was a soft one. Saints were caught napping at a ruck and fly-half Chris Paterson slid through the cover and over in the corner, but Lee failed with the conversion.

Northampton: N Beal; J Sleightholme (C Moir, 63), A Bateman (A Northey, 79), M Allen, B Cohen; P Grayson (J Bramhall, 15), M Dawson; G Pagel (M Volland, 33-40 & 76), S Walter (F Mendez, 63), M Stewart, A Newman (J Phillips, 72), R Metcalfe, D Mackinnon, P Lam (capt), B Pountney.

Edinburgh Reivers: D Lee (S Lang, 79); C Murray, A Tait, G Shiel (capt), C Sharman (K Milligan, 79); C Paterson, I Fairley (G Burns, Fairley, 76); B Stewart, S Scott (G McKelvey, 74), M Proudfoot (A Jacobsen, 74), N Hines G Hayter, 74), I Fullarton, C Mather, C Hogg, G Dall (I Sinclair, 21).

Referee: J Dume (France).